So where to do you see 90nm now then?

We're taping out a whole lot of 90nm chips.

I'm thinking that you'll be going to TSMC's 90nm process; what's the relationship with IBM at the moment?

Yes, we're using 110nm and 90nm at TSMC. The relationship with IBM is fine, its just that we've known for a long time that they'll be reducing the amount of foundry work they do. So we've been moving the majority of our foundry business to other partners - primarily TSMC, some UMC and some Charter. UMC and Charter have really good low power processes so we tend to give them the mobile business, but they also have decent generic high speed logic.

One of the things that we've noticed is that previously you've fairly consistently been refreshing products every 6 months, but in this instance its been 14 months since there has been a high end refresh at all - do you envisage seeing the cycle times lengthening more and more?

Just a little. It lengthens and shortens based on how quickly we innovate and how quickly we design, but also based on the cycle times of fabs. Just the theoretical throughput for chips at 90nm is up to 70, 80 or 90 days, whereas it used to be about 40 days - so we've already added about a month and a half into the cycle time of the chips even if we didn't change anything.

The way things are looking at the moment is that if one chip takes two spins, you are already encroaching on your refresh product...

That's exactly right. But, you know, a lot of people say that the GPU business is really, really tough and yeah, so is F1 Racing, so is Indy - you're out there, driving at the wall at 230MPH and people say "Boy, that's really dangerous", but shucks, that's our sport and this is what we love doing. We wouldn't go so fast if our customers didn't want it - our customers want this and our end users want to keep getting that better and better experience and we've got to give it to them.

With the way things are at the moment it appears that even as we speak at the launch of your latest generation of graphics processor you must be somewhere around the taping out point for the refresh of this and around being RTL complete on the next generation architecture?

Yeah, its something like that. Its kind of like a machine gun where you have more than one bullet in flight.

SLI does bring an interesting dynamic though, as its possible that with SLI end users can upgrade by just buying another card and doubling up the performance that way. This might have the impact of slowing down refreshes and if it does then we'll slow down, but we don't see that happening.

I would say there are three elements that are having an influence on product times: the cycle times for a given process, the development times for new processes, which is also slowing down as well, and the game development time. The length of time its taking to design a game an issue to you, because we're hearing developer talk about 2-3 years of development time, and possibly even more now that more content and realism is demanded of a game?

There's one dynamic where game development is becoming harder, I don't want to say longer, just harder for now - it is more technologically challenging and it is harder to create the art. On the other hand the tools are getting better; we're seeing things like programmable shading tools and UnrealEngine and its editors - all of these types of tools are getting better. I happen to believe that in the long term game development cycles can actually shorten. Now, saying that can sound kind of ridiculous, but let me give you one anecdote...

I started designing my first chip when I was 20 years old, some 20 years ago, and at the time the cycle time of that chip was literally three years - there is no chip today that will last three years! That chip was 20,000 transistors - if I gave a new graduate now 20,000 transistors he wouldn't take the job! What took me three years to do, kids can now do in a weekend, so we are more productive now and the reasons for that is because of high level design languages, synthesizers, compositors.

But to a certain extent, the problem you can see with that model is that the onus is on the powerful developers and publishers because someone has to be making those tools and selling them, and they aren't going to be cheap which would suggest that it still lends itself to the EA's or Epic's of this world, pushing out the smaller developers...

Maybe, maybe. However, another anecdote... The number of chip designer companies in the world has dramatically expanded in the last twenty years, whereas only TI [Texas Instruments], Intel, AMD, Fairchild, designed chip twenty years ago - give me an example of who doesn't today!

So, where common sense would say that these things are getting more expensive and harder to do the fact of history is that smart people come along, create tools, increase the level of abstraction and with better technologies divorce the technology from the artists. What Mark Rein says is incredibly important, that you don't want everybody to be a scientist and engineer and figure out how light reflects or refracts off a particular material, you just want him to think about what he wants to make and as soon as you separate that limitation all of a sudden everyone becomes much, much more productive.